The development of genomics for public health is being prioritised mainly by low- and middle-income nations, with richer countries not seeking to collaborate in such research, reports the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Yet while there are to date relatively few examples of genomics being applied successfully for developing stratified medicines, the use of genomics more broadly for infectious disease control is already yielding significant public health benefits, in terms of helping to diagnose and track the movement of disease outbreaks and also to enhance and accelerate the production of effective vaccines, says the OECD.

The Organisation was reporting on its investigation, with the UK-based ESRC Genomics Network into the drivers and criteria shaping the application of genomic biotechnology to health in different national settings, and the barriers to implementation, both national and international.

They found "significant differences of priority" between higher-income countries - which are motivated primarily by the promise of stratified medicine as a means of addressing their growing burden of chronic disease - and lower- and middle-income countries, which tend to concentrate more on efforts to control the infectious diseases that still beset them.

"It is generally agreed that international collaboration in both research and implementation is essential if the full potential of genomics for infectious disease control, both nationally and globally, is to be realised. By contrast, the development of stratified medicine tends to be seen as primarily a national issue, with international initiatives in this area directed towards fostering an appropriate regulatory and economic environment supportive of national innovation," they say.

Consequently, richer countries are less dependent on, and less inclined to seek, international collaboration. But while the benefits of stratified medicine will largely be felt nationally or regionally, infectious diseases pose potentially global threats, and the benefits of genomics for their control may therefore be on a global as well as a local scale.

The researchers point out that their findings "represent only a snapshot of a rapidly-developing field." Nevertheless, they say, it currently seems that the research most likely to be of global benefit is being prioritised chiefly in low- and middle-income countries - which possess only limited resources to pursue such work - while richer countries seem more inclined to invest in lines of genomic R&D that orient them chiefly towards domestic issues, with less incentive to collaborate internationally.